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Ryan Miller: "If they can dish it out, they can take it"

The darkest moment of one forgettable season

If you want to focus in on one, just one, seminal moment that is the microcosm of this awful season of Buffalo Sabres hockey, just look at last Friday’s game at home against the New York Rangers, an 8-4 loss that officially eliminated Buffalo from postseason contention.

After a pretty evenly played 18 minutes of the first period, the Sabres allowed two quick goals and just like that were down 2-0. Clearly rattled, goaltender Ryan Miller mishandled a sweep of the puck in the closing seconds of the period, surrendering it to Ryan Clowe of the Rangers, who buried the puck behind Miller. Bam—3-0 New York, and a chorus of boos raining down on the Sabres as the period ended.

So what happened in the start of the second? Miller made a routine save in the opening minute, prompting a Bronx cheer from the crowd. Miller raised his goalie stick in the air and pumped it twice, making what appeared to be a return mock gesture to the crowd.

On the next attack into the Buffalo zone, Anton Stralman scored on Miller. It was 4-0, and interim coach Ron Rolston had seen enough. In came Jhonas Enroth to relieve Miller. He promptly surrendered a goal on the first shot he faced: 5-0 New York. Game and season over. The Rangers scored five goals in the span of 2:56, breaking their own franchise record. This, mind you, being an Original Six franchise which has been around forever.

While the 8-4 loss hurt badly enough, and the slim probability of making the playoffs vanished in the blink of an eye, the talk around the arena, in the locker room, on blogs, and on social media networks was the behavior of Miller and what this means for his future as a Buffalo Sabre.

Miller took full blame for the miscue that led to the third goal, calling it the worst play he ever made here. But when asked about the crowd reaction and his response, he defiantly replied, “If they can dish it out, they can take it.” “They,” of course, being the ticket-buying patrons of the Buffalo Sabres, the people who pay huge dollars so that Miller can pocket $6.25 million in salary each season.

During the most recent lockout, Miller was one of the more shrill hardliners in the labor negotiations, repeatedly complaining about the “disrespect” he and his fellow players have had to endure—6.25 million examples of disrespect, in Miller’s case.

“I sat there and took it. I screwed up. I ended up flipping it up straight ahead. Bad decision,” said Miller of the miscue. He drifted off and started speaking of Patrick Roy’s final game in Montreal in the mid 1990s, a player whose relationship with his team’s fans also ended badly. “It’s been years and years and years of not getting it done, so if they want change and are pissed off, then that’s fine.” Again, “they” are presumably the ticket-buying fans, which if one does the simple math, suggests that $7.80 of each ticket sold at the gate goes directly into Ryan Miller’s pocket.

Rolston had nothing to say about Miller’s stick gesture, barking to the media in yet another contentious postgame interview that he did not see the incident. (Prompting one to wonder exactly what was Rolston watching from his perch on the bench if not the game in front of him.)

Come Friday night, there will be one last attempt at a feel -ood event as the Sabres close the season. There will be raffles, prizes, shirts off the backs of players, funny videos, perhaps a stick salute to the crowd as the game concludes. For the beleaguered franchise, what awaits is a journey into a dark and desolate offseason, where thoughts of “Hockey Heaven” and “Multiple Stanley Cups” are for now just a pipe dream.

Taro Sez...

• Cheers to the Rochester Americans, who qualified for the AHL Calder Cup playoffs this past weekend and open their best-of-five series this weekend against the Toronto Marlies at Ricoh Coliseum. The Marlies eliminated the Amerks in last year’s playoffs. The Amerks are at home next Wednesday and Thursday at Blue Cross Arena.

• Jeers to the Buffalo Bandits, who are the only one of nine teams not to qualify for this year’s National Lacrosse League playoffs after losing to the Rochester Knighthawks at home this past Saturday. This is the first time in history, spanning 22 years, that the Sabres and the Bandits have both not qualified for post-season play in the same year.

• Cheers to the Buffalo Bisons, for winning eight straight road games this past week, a mark not accomplished in the team’s modern era. The Bisons won nine straight road games in 1985, but that was scattered over three different trips. The team scored 61 runs over this recent road stretch, and Bisons starters allowed but four earned runs in the last four games. Bisons Baseball might be just the tonic this summer for tortured Buffalo sports fans who have had to endure a lot of misery of late.

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